How far apart should hands be on paddle?

Hello. I am a relatively non-dexterous life form who does a bit of flatwater kayaking. I started out years ago with club boats and paddles. The paddles there had nice painted zones on them, in a lovely shade of battleship grey, the better to help dolts like me keep our hands in roughly the same place all day. Stupidly, I never asked them what governed the hand-guide placement.

After years in a canoe and away from kayaking, I finally bought a kayak and a paddle. However, my new store-boughten stick has no stripey cosmetic enhancements in evidence. It’s… blank. As a result, I’m all over the shaft and going in circles.

I want to paint or tape some lines on my paddle shaft. Is there a rule of thumb I should use to locate my fist-guides on the paddle-shaft?

I hold mine with my elbows bent …
approximately at 90 degrees.

Possibly with the hand inwards about an inch from 90 degrees.



Are your…
Are your upper arms at your sides or parallel to floor when you say that?

hand position
put the middle of the paddle on the top of your head when standing. Grab the paddle so your elbows are at about 90 degrees.

Perfect explanation. Thank you!

some say shoulder width
Some folks say your hands should be shoulder width apart, centered on the balance point. But, for low angle paddling, a little closer in can work well for some. This depends a lot on boat width, paddler torso height, gunnel height, paddle length, etc. But, I learned a neat trick about compensating where you slide one hand way up, almost to the blade, so you get an overlong power stroke on the opposite side. That way, when alternating sides, one hand is always moving. It’s harder to describe than it is to do, but traveling in some conditions, say, into the wind, up current, it can really help. I find it gives me a torso rotation power stroke more akin to a canoe forward stroke. Anyway, the point is just to try a whole bunch of stuff, and figure out what works in which conditions.

Top of head & 90

– Last Updated: Jun-01-06 10:53 PM EST –

With a new paddle, I do the top of the head/90 degree trick & put plastic tape on the outside of my hands. I paddle a bit inside of the 90 mark, maybe 80 or so. I'm 5'9", with wide shoulders & my outside tape marks are approx. 35" apart/just under 90. These tape rings (boundaries) help with consistant hand spacing & allow me to choke up on the off wind side & leave more shaft for my on wind side in a strong side wind, especially in a rudderless boat. I've tapped my paddles like this for well over 20 yrs. & probably always will. Good luck & have fun paddling!

Sorry, I just took that
for granted.



Like D. Green, I have tape marks on
my paddles. These are located at the “normal”, everyday, all is calm, hand locations (actually just inside them so that I do not grip the tape). This does two things for me: 1) they give ma a quick reference point to return my hands if I shift them for the countless reasons that you shift your hands around the paddle; 2) since I have several different length paddles and each piece really fits best with its actual mate, I use different colors of tape for each paddle set. Tis allows me to grab the correct two pieces from my storage location when I am gearing up to go paddle.

As far as the actual location, I am pretty much in-line with the others; a little less than shoulder width apart.

Variations / options
The “paddle on the head / arms at 90°” is a classic guideline. You may want to consider a slightly more sensory-based guage . .

Start with your hands at a spacing similar to the above, . . then move the hands closer and further appart alternately to feel what works best for you, your body, your paddle & your boat. I find I change my grip almost continuously while paddling - wider to accelerate or into a stiff wind, narrower when paddling down-wind.

Ultimately the “best techique” varies for each person. Try to learn to “feel” what the paddle is doing and you’ll be better off than paddling from any mechanical point of view. If you can learn to feel what the paddle and boat are doing / how they are responding to your efforts, you’ll gradually learn to let the boat and paddle show you what they like best.

spot on
Jed nails it, IMO.

Other approaches have value (the 90deg elbow, others think shoulder width). Think of it this way- if someone asked you, “why do you paddle that way?”, do you answer, “becuase other people (instructors, message boards) told me to”, or, “because it works as a better lever/better biomechanics/keeps me in a position of strength”, etc.

To get a dry land approxiamation of what Jed mentions, put a light weight on the middle of your blade (about 3-4lb). Now, move your hands closer together, then farther apart.

If the resistance (the weight) is simulating bucking the the wind, where would you place your hands to minimise the wind, and maintain a position of strenght?

If the load is lighter (2-3lb), notice that it feels ok to have your hand slightly closer. Sort of like the paddling resistance at lower speeds. Now put a 4-5lb weight. Just that amount makes you want to spread your hands. Sort of like the resistance at higher speeds.

The difference between them will likely not be that much. I might lead you and suggest that it is highly unlikely you would find have your hands at shoulder width feels very good.


Some good advice here…
and I’d like to add my thoughts.

Hand spacing is a personal thing based on stroke style, shoulder width, arm length, upper torso strength, etc.

I’m a skinny 6’2" paddler with narrow shoulders and simian arms. My hand spacing zone for general cruising is just about two fists inside the 90 degree position (one fist per side). I lay my tape on the outside point of this spacing. My stroke varies from a medium angle for general paddling to a higher angle when havin’ fun and playin’.

If I used my shoulder width as the spacing indicator, I’d lose a lot of power. Much time out there at 90 degrees tires me.

I also find the narrower spacing helps me maintain a properly positioned exit, that is, at the hip. A real wide spacing finds me rotating further and carrying the blade too far behind me.

Concentrate on good stroke form and let your body tell you where your comfort zone is. Forget the numbers… one size never fits all.

Pleasant waters to ya.


like everything else
you go by the "guidelines; i.e. 90 degrees, and adjust from there. The boat and your body will tell you what is right. If you come away from a strong paddling session with your torso area pleasantly sore and the rest just fine then you have the perfect position for your paddle.

It is not just where you hold the paddle but also how you are using it when you do hold it. I am comstantly making adjustments, some miniscule, some not, to compensate for wind and waves or current. These days I am really concentrating on my “core” to try and move the boat. Paddle position varies slightly.


Thank you all…
I’ve now got good guidelines, some big rubber O-rings, a roll of removable waterproof tape, and a free weekend at the lake with the boat. Oh, and a small pot of yellow paint for when I’ve gotten somewhere with the testing.

Perhaps I should have mentioned, though… I paddle high angle, with a great big Werner spoon blade on one of their neutral bent shafts. Just bought it. I’d thought the cranked portions of the shaft would index my hands for me. To my surprise, they don’t, not at all. I’m all over it. I like it otherwise, though.

Soon going to buy a spare paddle of similar blade type, but it’ll have a straight pole, I think.

If all of the above
explanations fail, paint two grey stripes on your paddle, and then put your hands there